The largest shopping mall in the U.S. — measured by retail space — is in a Philadelphia suburb with only 20,000 permanent residents. Go figure. Early settlers in Pennsylvania had a sense of humor about place names: the place is called “King of Prussia,” a moniker that once adorned a local tavern.
The Valley Forge Casino Resort is also in King of Prussia — right across the street from an impressive campus where the offices of the American Baptist Churches USA occupy a circular three-story building. I’m guessing that the Baptists were here before the casino.
This week, the ABC-USA is hosting the spring meeting of the Baptist World Alliance executive committee. Despite threats of a major blizzard that never quite materialized, Baptist leaders from as far away as Australia, India, South Africa, and Estonia have come together with folk from Europe, South America, and the states. A crowd like that generates quite enough warmth to overcome single-digit temperatures and a couple of inches of snow.
While a two-hour walk around the King of Prussia Mall offered a tribute to American excess, BWA business sessions spoke to the difficulties and opportunities Baptists face in other lands. BWA president John Upton spoke of attending a missions forum in the Ukraine last September. Sponsored by the All-Ukrainian Union of Associations of Evangelical Christian-Baptists, the forum drew 3,000 participants. How often do missions conferences in the U.S. spark such interest?
Ukraine, as daily news reports remind us, is a troubled country. The interim president, Oleksandr Turchynov, is a Baptist. Pray for him, and for others who are working for peace in that country.
Upton also spoke of meeting with a Christian leader from Egypt, who reported that 92 churches had been burned in his country during the month of August alone. When asked how he and other Christians dealt with that kind of violence, he responded: “When a blind person bumps into you, do you get angry? Do you resent them and want to retaliate? Of course not. You understand they are blind. Our neighbors are blind and the only response we can have to those who burn our churches is love. Nothing else will cure their blindness.”
As we consider the meaning of this Ash Wednesday, let us remember those whose church buildings have been reduced to ashes, and pray that we might know Jesus well enough to have just a touch of the love and faith they have shown.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.